The internet and social media sites offer ways for people to connect in unprecedented ways: sharing knowledge, ideas, insights, and opinions with one another at a pace that can be dizzying at times. In today’s world, people who want to make a difference and influence others as leaders need to be actively involved in this growing online community.

Why Social Media?

You may be wondering about the benefits of involvement with social media. After all, participating with online networks can be time consuming. The short answer to the question “Why social media?” is relationships.

When you participate in social media, you create an opportunity for building and strengthening relationships, both personally and professionally.

By getting involved in social media you will:

  • Extend your personal network. You can connect with old friends and strengthen ties to friends nearby and far away.
  • Make connections with new friends who will be able to help you with your career goals and development.
  • Form business connections with individuals who may be interested in developing or advancing the goals of your organization.
  • Learn from a community of people who share your interests and aspirations.
  • Create an audience for your blog, book, website, conference, or writing project.

More importantly, you will:

  • Give encouragement to others.
  • Help individuals with their career goals and development.
  • Collaborate with others to create mutually beneficial partnerships.
  • Share your learning, wisdom, and insights with others.
  • Assist others in promoting their blog, website, conference, or book.

Participating in social media also gives you an opportunity to establish yourself as a thought leader. By sharing your knowledge with others, you can develop a following of individuals who look to you for your unique perspective in your field.

Establishing an Online Identity/Personal Branding

The first step in getting involved in social media is to know who you are, what differentiates you from others, and what you want to offer in your online relationships. A personal mission statement is a good starting point for understanding what your “brand” will be in relating to others online and in person. The image that you project online should coincide with the real you: who you are with friends and business associates offline well. You are not so much creating an online persona as you are expressing your unique personality through your online presence.

Dan Schwabel’s blog and book are excellent resources for learning about personal branding. Read this post about the top ten rules for creating a strong personal brand.

Getting Started with Social Media Sites

There are myriad possibilities for your involvement in social media. Many networks are job specific; ednak is a community for online educators. Others are generational; Brazen Careerist’s niche is Generation Y. Some online communities are geographic.

Your best best in joining online communities is to start with a few. You may want to search for a local network so that you can build relationships with people that you can more easily extend offline.

LinkedIn is a relatively low-time-commitment site that allows you to make professional connections with others, link to your website or blog, and post your resume. Once you have a profile on LinkedIn, you don’t need to check in regularly; you can visit the site as needed for a job search or to ask a question of others in your field. LinkedIn sends email updates of any messages you receive.

Use LinkedIn to:

  • Connect with people you already know professionally.
  • Search for colleagues from previous employment experiences.
  • Reconnect with college classmates.
  • Drive readers to your blog or website.
  • Post a current resume.
  • Seek new employment opportunities.
  • Ask questions of other professionals in your field.

Facebook has been primarily viewed as a social site, but can be an important component in creating an online identity. Facebook allows you to present your more personal side, even to business contacts. If you plan to become friends on Facebook with professional contacts, though, you will need to be intentional and careful about what you share in status updates, what pictures you choose to post, and what applications you choose to use. Check out this great post by Dr. Bret L. Simmons about the power and peril of being personal on Facebook.

Use Facebook to:

  • Connect with friends, family, neighbors, AND professional contacts.
  • Share a more personal side of your life with others, including hobbies, photos, and special interests.
  • Stay up to date with organizations or schools you support by becoming a fan of their pages.
  • Relax with a game, take a quiz, or catch up on your favorite blogs.

Twitter is a place to join a non-stop stream of ideas and information for the purpose of building relationships, primarily with people you don’t know (yet.) In order to fully benefit from using Twitter, you should make a commit to spend at least ten minutes each day for thirty days being involved and learning about it. Our white paper, Twitter for Beginners, is a great resource to help you get started. You might also want to start by following some of the people listed in these groups.

Use Twitter to:

  • Build relationships, both personal and professional.
  • Hear what people are saying about current events and topics that interest you.
  • Share relevant online articles or blog posts with others.
  • Get involved in conversations with others.
  • Direct traffic to your website or blog.

Blogs are an important avenue to share ideas and information with others. If you do not currently read blogs, you may enjoy checking out some of the related links on the sidebar of the LeaderTalk blog for insights about leadership from various perspectives. For some ideas about how create a system for reading blogs, read this post.

Commenting on blogs is a great way to begin to share your ideas with others.The best blog posts are strengthened by readers who add their wisdom and knowledge and participate in a truly collaborative conversation. Check out this post from Wally Bock for an example of how comments can extend the learning of a blog post.

You may also want to consider writing your own blog or submitting guest posts to one of your favorite blogs (including LeaderTalk). By writing a blog, you will have a chance to clarify your thoughts on a topic and improve your writing skills. You will also be able to share your thoughts with others and receive feedback and encouragement. Another post from Dr. Bret L. Simmons outlines some benefits of blogging.

Use blogs to:

  • Learn about current thinking in your field or areas of interest.
  • Get involved in conversations with others.
  • Share your insights, knowledge, or information with others by commenting on posts or writing your own blog.

Although getting involved with social media can seem like a huge task, the payoff in the form of new relationships, professional contacts, and learning opportunities far outweighs the time investment required. Make a commitment to join an online community or two and read/comment on a few blogs regularly. As you learn your way around, you can increase your involvement.

Be sure to integrate your efforts as much as possible. Facebook and Twitter can be easily combined using an application like TweetDeck, and your LinkedIn profile can include a link to your Twitter page.

Remember to try several communities until you find the best fit. Social media sites are not “one size fits all.” Don’t give up too soon, though. Getting established on some sites, especially Twitter, takes time.

Be yourself! The key to expressing your personal brand online is allowing who you really are to shine through.

Most importantly, don’t forget that involvement in social media is all about relationships.

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.